Researchers at MIT and Caltech have developed a nanoengineered material that can be more rigid than Kevlar or steel preferences. Made by interconnected carbon “tetracidechydrons”, the material absorbs the effects of microscopic bullets in spectacular fashion. The study, led by Carlos Portella of MIT, aimed to find out whether nanoarracted components – designed and fabricated on nanometer scales – could be an effective tool for ultrato blast shields, body armor and other protective surfaces.
The concept of tetracycline-hedron-based materials is not new. The complex 14-sided class of polyhedrons (with about 1.5 billion possible variants) was proposed by Lord Kelvin in the 19th century as one of the theoretically most effective for filling space with his own imitations. If many such polyheads could be packed in one small space and attached to each other, Portella and her colleagues wondered, would they act as efficient shock absorbers? These types of materials were tested with slow deformation but not the strongest effect expected from bullets or micrometroid like you.
To find out, they assemble blocks of components through nanolithography techniques, baking until the false structure is pure carbon. They then traveled well above the speed of sound with 14-micron-wide silicon oxide bullets and shot these carbon structures (although the comparison in these fibers is somewhat clear). Carbon structures in particular absorb the reducing effects very well, stopping the particle from dying – and importantly, deforming but not breaking down.
“We show that this shock vs. nanoscale vs. shock compaction mechanism and doing something completely dense and monotonous, not nanoorganized, allows us to absorb a lot of energy into the material,” Portella said in a news release describing the discovery. “It would be more effective to stop estimating the amount of matter we have than the same amount of Kevlar.” Interestingly, the researchers found that they were able to best model the effects and losses using the methods used to describe meteors that typically affect the planet’s surface.
This is only the result of a preliminary test, so soldiers will not wear a tetracycline hydraulic flak jacket anytime soon, but the test certainly promises this approach. The team is able to find any way to create components by scaling, but it can be effective in all kinds of industries.